History at Two Unexpected Cody, WY, Attractions

In Cody, WY, the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, two tourist attractions present the sometimes challenging realities of war.

An exhibit at the Heart Mountain World War II Interpretive Center. Photo: C. Stapen.

In Cody, WY, a gateway town for Yellowstone National Park, two area attractions offer special perspectives on history. At the Heart Mountain World War II Interpretive Center, 14 miles from Cody in Powell, find out about the dark era of US imprisonment of Japanese people. At the Cody Firearms Experience, shoot replicas of historic guns, muskets, and rifles.

A guide at the Heart Mountain World War II Interpretive Center. Photo: C. Stapen.

Heart Mountain W.W. II Interpretive Center

During World War II, more than 100,000 people of Japanese heritage, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were forced into US internment camps, or what many labeled as concentration camps. Heart Mountain held more than 14,000 people—men, women, and children—for more than three years. Their only “crime:” being Japanese in the US after the bombings of Pearl Harbor.

The Interpretive Center, situated on the camp’s site, a windswept hillside with scenic views of the snowcapped Carter Mountains, details the suffering as well as the resilience of these people. In a moving film, former detainees recount their confusion at being rounded up and relocated. They lost their businesses and homes, allowed to carry only two suitcases each of possessions.

“There was no privacy,” says one detainee. “My husband, me and my mother and father were in one room. In the bathroom, there were no walls. We had to sit next to strangers. It was shameful,” says one detainee.

Yet, people adapted and endured. Former Boy Scout leaders led a troop, women swapped children’s clothing and patched garments to fit growing kids, and 800 men from the relocation camp, still patriotic, fought for the US in World War II.

The Cody Firearms Experience. Photo: C. Stapen.

Cody Firearms Experience

You’ve read about the “guns that won the West.” At the Cody Firearms Experience, which debuts next week, you get to shoot replicas of these historic pieces. Even anti-gun advocates like me find the history behind the firearms interesting. Choose from pieces popular in the 1790s such as the 1795 Flintlock Musket to those drawn in the early 1900s. The safety officer follows high standards, giving you strict rules, expert guidance and much information on how the firearm helped shape history.

The US Model 1861 Rifled Musket, the workhorse of the early Civil War, took time to load and could be temperamental in humidity, resulting in many casualties. The Gatling Gun, in use from 1861 to the 1880s, remedied part of that problem by firing magazines of 20 to 40 rounds in rapid succession. You can get hands-on with these firearms as well as about 15 additional pieces.

The facility also offers a western-themed arcade where kids a can test their aim in a mock frontier town presided over by a teddy bear sheriff.

To see what a World War II barracks looked like at Heart Mountain, and see a demonstration of the Cody Firearms Experience, watch the video below: